Friday, February 17, 2006

Is it just me?

I have noted for a while that it seems to be getting harder and harder to get people to call you back or respond to an e-mail.

This has always been an issue for sales people, but my experience used to be that most people would return calls fairly faithfully if they it didn’t require them to pull out their wallet.

Over the past week or so I have had occasion to make a lot of calls to individual business people, some of whom I knew or have met before, some of whom I don’t know at all. My response rate is only about 30%.

Clearly this is my fault for not providing a compelling enough message. On the other hand, I didn’t think it would be necessary. Yes, I am trying to get these people to participate in something, but I thought the benefit to them was pretty obvious.

So there's a lesson in itself. If you want people to return your calls, give them a compelling reason why it’s in their interests to do so. Don't assume they’ll take the time to think it through and recognize the benefits on their own.

But why are callbacks and return e-mails so hard? After all, we’re in the era of “instant-on,” where everyone carries their phones everywhere and checks email obsessively.

My theory is that instant e-mail has reduced our attention spans. We now respond readily to urgent messages that require very little thinking. But if a message requires a little more judgment and reflection, I suspect we put that off. With the sheer volume of calls and e-mails we all get, perhaps a message that has been read once but not responded to falls quickly off the to-do list – just as it literally scrolls right off the monitor screen as new messages pile up.

Since I believe that business is a subtle art form that demands thinking and reflection time, this scenario scares me just a little.

Maybe you have another theory as to why it’s so hard to get messages returned? Please share it here by clicking on comments, below. The best response will win a prize. (See? I’m learning.)

1 comment:

John Ross said...

I think a short attention span is only one reason people won't return messages. I think another large part of the problem is that although you're explaining the benefits to them, everyone is so used to being marketed at, that you have to break though a huge layer of skepticism before they belive the message.

We get so many messages telling us how incredible product X is that when something that's truly remarkable comes allong, we're so jaded we're not willing to pay attention.

I think in any business relationship you have to under-promise and over-deliver. Once you have that reputation, people will start listening to you again.